national Arts Festival Banner

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Orchestra responds splendidly to conductor Francois-Xavier Roth (pictured). (Review by Michael Green)

Two major musical figures of the nineteenth century, Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner, made up the programme for this concert given by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall.

Brahms and Bruckner spent most of their lives in Vienna, and they died within a year of each other, Bruckner in 1896, Brahms in 1897. Despite the overlapping in place and time, they wrote music of very different styles, with Brahms the greater composer by far.

What they both had in common was a certain expansiveness, a disposition to take their time, not to hurry and to say their say at some length. There was room for only two works on this programme, and it was a long concert, this in spite of fairly brisk tempi taken by the visiting French conductor, Francois-Xavier Roth.

Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, one of the masterworks of the violin repertory, was played by the London-born Daniel Rowland, who had created a great impression in a recital for the Friends of Music two days earlier. He has an international reputation, and it is easy to see and hear why. He has a tremendous technique and he is an artist with a touch of the showman. His platform manner is quite flamboyant at times, but there is no doubting his total commitment to, and absorption in, the music. He produced a piercingly sweet tone in the concerto’s lyrical passages, and he gave a commanding presentation of the concerto’s structure as a whole.

The orchestra’s playing was immaculate. Mr Roth, who has conducted here before, seems to have meticulous control.

In a graceful gesture, Daniel Rowland presented the orchestra’s principal oboist, Clare Welfare, with a flower he had been given at the end of the performance, this in acknowledgment of her excellent playing of the long and beautiful oboe solo at the beginning of the second movement of the concerto. And then he played a lovely encore, unaccompanied: the well-known Meditation from Massenet’s opera Thais.

In a pre-concert lecture Ted Brien wondered aloud whether Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A major had ever before been played in Durban. I can’t remember hearing it, and it is certainly one of the least-known of this Austrian composer’s nine symphonies. It runs for just under an hour, and its rather thick orchestral texture is a constant reminder that Bruckner was an organist as well as a symphonist. It is essentially music of a more leisurely age than ours: grand or grandiose, depending on one’s point of view, many glimpses of nature, big sounds from the brass, complex rhythms, significant pauses.

Francois-Xavier Roth, who uses no baton and has the most expressive conducting hands, showed a deep understanding of this long and difficult work, and the orchestra responded splendidly, especially in the eloquent slow movement, which is really the heart of the symphony. Generous applause at the end indicated that the audience appreciated the quality of the playing. - Michael Green